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Caught in a Cult

Earlier this year I was working as an au pair in Brisbane, Australia. Things were going well until I found myself in a wild relationship filled with drink, drugs, and hotel rooms. We started to argue, and I noticed my mental health deteriorating. I needed to get away, be somewhere pure, and come back to me. Therefore, I left for Samaya Ashram in the Byron Bay Hinterland in April.

This self-sustainable, spiritual community had a tight schedule. We rose at 5.30am before sunrise, had a jam-packed day of meditations, yoga, ‘meditation in action’ (work), and vegan meals. In the evenings, we had Sangha. During Sangha, we danced in the candle-lit Bush Sanctuary, and then we sat in a circle and meditated. Samaya, the 80-year-old Italian Guru and owner of the Ashram, would then give a talk. He didn’t hang around much and that was usually the most anyone saw him, unless you arranged a time to see him privately. By 7pm, the moon-illuminated forest led us to bed.

Samaya was wise, charismatic, intelligent, and moved gracefully in the shadows of Sangha. His philosophy blew me away and through listening to him, I realised how one could so easily become a slave to society. He made us feel like we had escaped all that pain and suffering. The Ashram would set us free.

Over the first few days, the intensity of Osho mediations shocked me. We did Mystic Rose on my 2nd day and that was talking ‘gibberish’ for 10 minutes, crying for 10, and then laughing for 10. I couldn’t believe people were doing it. How could they flick through such a range of intense emotions? After a few days, we did Dynamic mediation. This terrified me even more. After rapidly breathing through your nostrils for quite some time, you then express rage, sadness, and any other deep, dark emotions you could find and letting it EXPLODE. Some people were screaming ‘FUCK YOU’, some people were punching pillows, some were rocking on the floor crying, and some were letting their body have fits of pure rage! Dynamic not only scared me, but after a few attempts, it forced me to visit uncomfortable levels of sadness, terror, and anger.

Being in a room with everyone shouting and screaming was terrifying. Everyone cried their souls out, even when we weren’t mediating, and this place provided no real aftercare. As we were forced to dig deep into these meditations, we had no real way to come back out, safely. It’s as if everyone just walked around with fresh, open wounds, and had no way to stitch them back up. After a week, I realised I was living with some mentally unwell people. I was clearly one of them.

Having a mental breakdown here felt like an achievement. Everyone kept telling me that I wasn’t fully letting my guard down. This included Samaya. He said,

‘You have to give yourself fully to me. Let me inside. Love me.’

He made it very clear he didn’t have time to let his wisdom shower down on me until I had done so. That night at Sangha, he clearly spoke about people ‘not making an effort’ with anger. I knew he was talking about me, everything he said, I felt it directly enter me. I felt terrible. I felt like the black sheep, the rebel, the outcast with a heavy mask.

‘He’s only trying to help me.’ I thought. ‘I need to try harder.’

My mask was soon ripped off when I had my first mental break down. After, I was congratulated. My mental break down was genuinely congratulated, followed by ‘I knew you could do it, Charmaine’. I was in a terrifying place of feeling suicidal, being poked and prodded, and pushed to my mental limits, and I was being congratulated. No one asked if I was OK. No one asked if anyone was OK. We were all mentally vulnerable, fragile people, and we had to wear our insanity on our sleeves, or we weren’t doing it right. After this mental collapse, I was in Samaya’s good books. I wondered why he had time for my weakness, and not for my strength. I also wondered if he liked us being weak so we would stay at his side.

Samaya called us his family, and said we were all brothers and sisters. However, I quickly noticed that he was contradictory, and as a person in healing under the guidance of a Guru, this constantly threw me off and made me question not only my beliefs, but his too. One night, he invited us to all make love to each other. I was quickly being mesmerised by a man who felt community living in the forest meant not washing. But, I didn’t want to make love to the people I lived in harmony with, my family. I wasn’t here for lovemaking or for the love of others. I wanted to love myself, alone. I told the young man, my fellow ‘brother’, I was going to the toilet, but I snuck off. He made love to someone else that night. After a week living here, I realised many people in our small community had flings and relationships with each other. Including Samaya himself with his right-hand woman Mali, mid 30’s. He also asked one of our early twenties female to be his lover I had found out. She politely declined.

‘Yes, you hate yourself, Charmaine. I can tell. You have a lot of work to do here at the Ashram. I propose you cancel your plans of going back to India, and you stay here and live with us. I don’t see you going back to normal society.’ Samaya said to me one day as I was in tears.

‘It must be true, he must be right’. I thought.

How could anyone who had worked with Osho himself say anything that was untrue? Samaya had deep insight. We had to fully believe in and trust Samaya to get the ‘best experience’ out of living at the Ashram he told me. Yet I found when I started believing in him, I got sicker, more confused and emotional, and so far from recovery. I relied on him more, I depended on his words of wisdom, and I looked to him for approval. After 1 week, I decided to devote myself to the Ashram, and I cancelled my future plans. I cried with joy once I came to this realisation after receiving my first ever tantric massage, which was an experience in itself!

With this, I posted my last message on Facebook to all my family and friends. Stating I was ‘going off grid for a while’, and that I wouldn’t be contactable. I was spotted with my phone and Mali gave me a telling off.

‘We don't like people using their phones. This is the time to go inwards’. She said.

I knew phones weren’t allowed, but I had a text from my Dad asking me to call him. I instantly thought my alcoholic mother was dead, so I called him. He didn’t understand where I was, and he expressed deep, serious concern for my wellbeing after reading my ‘final’ message to the world.

‘Dad, honestly. Don't worry. I'm safe. And I'm the happiest I have ever been!’ I said.

However, my Dad’s instincts were always right, and he knew I wasn’t safe.

One day we did a senses walk through the forest. It came to the sense of taste, and we were all ‘invited’ to taste the earth. Once it came to touch, we got down to the creek and Samaya yelled,

‘Everyone take off your clothes and jump into the creek. Anyone who doesn’t go in will not be allowed to have dinner’

And like that, everyone threw off their clothes and jumped into the creek. I stood next to the creek while Samaya called me in. I felt incredibly uncomfortable. And again, I felt bad I wasn’t following orders.

After a week, I realised people were ‘donating’ various amounts to the Ashram. As I found the Ashram on Workaway, where you work in exchange for accommodation and food, I had no idea money was involved. But it sure was. One time, Samaya questioned me.

‘Do you have enough money for a flight home? How did you get money to come to Australia?’

I told him I didn’t have enough money for a flight home, and that I didn’t know how I would go home one day. We didn’t talk about money again after that. I felt incredibly terrible that some people were donating a lot of money, and I wasn’t paying anything. One morning, Mali put great emphasis on how much we rely on donations. Therefore, she suggested everyone dig just a bit deeper. I couldn’t understand. Why were they on a work exchange website when they asked for money? I trusted in this place, yet I started to feel disappointed.

My soul sister at the Ashram was Madita. Her birth name was Kim, but while being here she received her new Sanskrit name of Madita. We craved a trip to the outside world, to sit in a cafe, drink coffee, talk, and eat chocolate. Nevertheless, leaving the Ashram was completely off the cards. Two women here were ‘allowed to leave’ because they worked and they paid the most donation. However, with the newfound knowledge of not being allowed to leave, combined with being convinced to stay for the foreseeable, I started feeling like I was suffocating.

Samaya was incredible at ‘cold showers’. One man was planning an escape, while he told us that he didn’t like being manipulated, and that he was the master of his own mind. That night during Sangha, I witnessed one of Samaya’s cold showers.

‘If you have finished your work here so quickly and plan to leave, than you must lead the others! You must have found inner peace!’ He stood up, and invited him to take his position at the front as leader of the Ashram.

No one looked up, and most people switched off. I spoke to Mali about this, as I was quite upset.

‘He does this because he loves everyone. He does this to me all the time. But, it’s just made me stronger’.

But, when I looked into her eyes, I saw a lost soul, not a strong woman. She pitied me because I didn’t understand Samaya. But, I pitied her.

I tried to talk to people about how things felt ‘odd’. However, the only person that listened and was receptive was Madita. She agreed that things were getting a bit crazy. She loved the place, possibly more than I did, and I think seeing the realness to the place, brought her sadness. Who wouldn’t want to stay here and heal with the best intentions? But, we started asking too many questions. We spoke to everyone else about how things seemed ‘unfair’. About the hierarchy, not being allowed to leave, and Samaya’s cold, controlling, hate-love towards everyone.

‘He has all our best intentions at heart, he loves us all’ they would say.

I didn’t feel what he did was kind. He was nasty and controlling. He made us open up and reveal our deepest sores. And once he found them, he would crawl inside and allow them to fester and grow. We were here in the name of Osho, but I often wondered if Osho would have liked Samaya being manipulative and brainwashing.

We were ‘free’ he said, but we didn’t feel free at all. We weren’t allowed to leave and we weren’t allowed to be alone. ‘Alone time is time to think’, he would say. However, it was being constantly around people that made me worse. I wasn’t allowed to heal on my own accord, to listen to the forest, to listen to my little voice inside. Of course, time alone was time to hear those inner voices, and mine started whispering ‘get out’. However, I was losing touch with that inner voice as my external surroundings became overbearing.

Samaya put me to work one morning and after 3 hours, he came back and was angry at my efforts.

‘You have done nothing! I am 80 years old and I can work faster than you can! Do you feel embarrassed? Do you feel ashamed?’ He shouted at me.

‘No I don’t. I HAVE been working. I HAVE been working hard. But I'm feeling very sick.’ I replied. He gave me the silent treatment.

At Sangha, he spoke about laziness in the community. I knew again, it was directly aimed at me. I felt awful. I thought a place like this would have been full of love, support, and strength. I was losing all of that. I felt like a dying rose.

I fell incredibly sick and had a raging fever. I asked if I could be taken to hospital, and Mali told me to stay in bed. After a few days, I told them again that I desperately needed to go to hospital, so they agreed to have someone drive me.

Once I got to hospital, outside the Ashram and in the real world, I saw the TV. War, bombs, violence, crime, and terror. It was terrifying and I felt grateful to be in a place of peace. I saw the doctor, who raised his eyebrows when I told him where I was living and what I was doing. He expressed deep concern for my mental and physical wellbeing. After all, it was only 3 months prior to the Ashram I was diagnosed with clinical depression and Borderline Personality Disorder. I had Gastroenteritis after 2 weeks of poor sanitation and uncooked food. And, I was pregnant.

I went back to the Ashram in tears. Mali smiled and held me.

‘Congratulations!’ she said.

Samaya then requested to see me. He discussed me falling sick, made me agree that it wasn’t from the Ashram, and told me that I was sick before I came here.

‘Ok. You will stay here at the Ashram. Mali and I will take care of you and the baby’. He said.

‘I don't know, I don't know if I can go through with this’ I cried.

‘Ok, you will have the baby and give it to me’. He replied.

I asked Mali and Samaya if Madita could come with me to hospital the next day for scans. They both said no, that Madita had work to do here, that we were all on our own paths, and that I had to do this alone.

‘What? Why? This is messed up!’ I replied.

‘Some things just can't be explained’ Mali said.

We slept on it, and in the morning, Madita told Mali she was coming. Mali said no again. But, Madita with more force while gripping my hand said,

‘No, I am going. And you can drive us to hospital, or we will walk there together.’

‘Oh. So I guess you don't want to be at the Ashram anymore then.’ Mali replied with a vicious tone.

With that, we were denied a ride to the hospital and Madita and I started our 5-hour walk to hospital, hoping we could hitch a ride. While we were walking away, we heard Mali shouting after us.

‘When you come back, you can pack your bags and you can leave’. She said.

We were absolutely mind-blown. Samaya then came running after Mali. In front of us, he spoke directly to Mali and didn’t look at us.

‘Samaya would like you to pack your bags and to leave now, and as a courtesy, I will drive you to hospital’. Mali said.

Like that, we were rejected from the Ashram. I was pregnant, psychically and mental unwell, and Madita was just providing me love and support. We went against their demands and control, and fought back against the manipulation and brainwashing. We were showing signs that we could stand on our own two feet. We were coming to some heavy realisations, so they outcast us in return in a time of need. In the car, we held hands while Mali repeatedly insulted us, and we knew we dodged a bullet. Even though we had no money and nowhere to go, we knew we were much safer now. Moreover, we had each other.

In hindsight, we were truly lucky. We were lucky it wasn’t worse, and we were lucky because we got out. After speaking to the local council to complain, they told us they had no record of people living at an Ashram down in the forest. It suddenly clicked that the website showed pictures of something else entirely, and nothing showed the Ashrams existence, not the Ashram that we lived at anyway. It was well and truly ‘off-grid’.

Our story is to raise awareness of Samaya Ashram, and other spiritual places that can fall under the category of a ‘cult’. These places can be immensely dangerous, and even the most strong-minded person can be sucked into a place of control and manipulation, and never come back out. There are still people there at Samaya Ashram now, people Madita and I really care about. If we can stop people from going there, if we can expose this place to backpackers on their journey through the East Coast of Australia, then it was well worth our experiences. Spiritual places aren’t meant to expose or highlight your weaknesses, make you uncomfortable, make you sick and unwell, control, bully, or manipulate you. If you start to question it, listen to those questions and ask yourself why. Have confidence in your body communicating with you. Places like this should make you feel as free as a bird, growing each day with strength, beauty, love, and radiance. You should feel happy, independent, inspired, and most of all, encouraged.

(Published here:

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